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History of Tattoos and Their importance in society?

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

What is a tattoo?

A tattoo is a mark made on the body by inserting permanent coloring matter into the dermis section of the skin to form patterns, figures or pictures that cannot be washed out. The indelible ink is inserted into the skin by piercing or pricking it using various piercing instrument. Tattooing has been practiced by various communities around the world for thousands of years. For instance, tattoos have been found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies buried around 2000 BC. Tattoos are mainly used for decoration, however, ancient traditions used tattoos to identify one’s position, rank or membership in the society, they were also believed to protect from persons from diseases and calamities. Tattoo comes from the word ‘tatua’, originally from Tahiti where it was first documented by James Cook’s expedition in 1769. Cook mentioned in his book: “ they stain their bodies by indentings, or pricking the skin with small instruments made of bone, cut into short teeth; which indentings they fill up with dark-blue or black mixture prepared from the smoke of an oily nut. This operation, which is called by the natives ‘tatua’ leaves an indelible mark on the skin” (Parkin, pp. 255). A number of native communities around the world have been using tattoos for centuries. The Ainu, the native people of Japan, frequently tattooed their faces. Today, tattoos can be found among the Berbers of Tamazgha in North Africa, Maori of New Zealand, Hausa tribe of Nigeria, Arabs in Turkey and the Atayal tribe of Taiwan. The practice was common among Polynesian tribes and even among some tribes in Taiwan, Philippines, Africa, North Africa, Cambodia, and Europe. Modern tattooing originated from Chatham Square in New York City and from there, it spread into other places and has become extremely popular all over the world. Just as in previous civilizations, tattoos are still used to express religious associations while some people believe that they can protect then from diseases and calamities. Still, others use them to express a sense of accomplishment.

Mainstream Popularity of Tattoos

Today, tattooing is common all over the world among all classes of people and across all ages, from white-collar employees, soldiers, blue-collar employees and even teenagers and youth. Tattoos in the modern world were previously regarded as marks used by outcasts, the low life, the hard rocker or the rebel, of a certain culture (Rohrer, para. 6). However, this stereotype has steadily evolved and tattoos are today an everyday thing, the practice has become so popular that an annual event about it is celebrated in London, known as the International London Tattoo Convention, which attracts thousands of tattoo fanatics. Today, tattoos have become socially acceptable in most places, however, most persons prefer to keep them covered when in formal places such as the office. One of the reasons why tattoos became popular and acceptable by the mainstream population is due to their prevalence by celebrities, mainly musicians and athletes. Today, many celebrities don tattoos and are willing to let them be seen. When the fans of these celebrities see the tattoos, they go for similar or related pattern to associate with them. This practice began in the 1970s when public stars began to embrace the practice as a form of art. Public figures such as the Rolling Stones adopted tattoos and this marked the beginning of their popularity. The decoration of singer Janis Joplin with a tattoo resembling a wristlet and a small heart tattoo on her breast has been mentioned as a major stepping stone towards the acceptance of tattoo in the mainstream population in the late 20th century. Technological advancements in electric needles and pigments further increased the popularity of tattoos as tattooists were able to use a wide range of color pigments and also improve the details and hence the aesthetic possibilities. These technologies also ensured that tattoos could be created with less pain and removed whenever one felt so (Anstett, para. 2). Pop culture has also led to the resurgence of tattoos in the 21st century and has inspired several television shows such as A&E’s Inked, Miami Ink and LA Ink. In the modern society, tattoos are worn by almost all classes of people in the society, from teenagers (who normally place them in covered areas), to the youth, who form a majority, and adults. Almost all celebrities such as athletes, ice skaters, musicians, movie stars, fashion models and other public figures who play a major role in setting the modern culture’s customs and behavior patterns. Beliefs and Values Many persons tattoo their bodies for a variety of reasons and this in turn instills different values and beliefs. To most people, tattoos communicate their actual personality, what they believe in, the memories they hold dear. Tattoos also indicate the autonomy that a person has in his/her body, and in the process makes them feel good about their bodies and to affirm the belief that they are comfortable with their bodies no matter what other people say (Carroll and Anderson, pp. 629). A few people who get tattoos are searching for something fresh and adventurous in their life, and see a tattoo as away of achieving this mission. And the fact that technology has it possible to remove tattoos only mean that persons can change their tattoos whenever they wish in order to reflect on their changing beliefs and values (Anstett, para. 2). Works Cited Anstett, Patricia. Tattoo removal makes it possible to erase the past. The Tennessean, 2011. Web. Carroll, Lynne and Anderson, Roxanne. Body piercing, tattooing, self-esteem, and body investment in adolescent girls, Adolescence 37 (147): 2002, 627–37. Parkin, Ray. H. M. Bark Endeavour: her place in Australian history. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 1999. Rohrer, Finlo. So why do ‘normal’ people get tattoos? BBC News Magazine, 2007. Web.

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